The traditional approach was to put the learner behind the wheel of a vehicle and point them in the direction of the road. This was usually the family car and, in theory, a parent was in charge of the educational experience. This was not so dangerous if the parents chose off-peak times and stayed off the main roads, but as the volume of urban traffic has increased, it’s become less common for parents to assume the responsibility. Driving schools have stepped into the commercial space, with schools and colleges accepting a role in teaching the theory. There’s just one problem with this learning experience. Although there’s now a positive push to force every learner to pass a test proving some familiarity with the rules of the road, there’s no opportunity to learn about the mechanical side of driving, and no chance to do anything other than drive vehicles very slowly around entirely safe off-road courses, or even more slowly around real public roads (except for the occasional venture on to a highway when there’s a chance to pick up speed and travel in straight lines or around long bends.
So the first chance to learn how a vehicle handles and, more importantly, how it feels when trying to brake under different conditions, is after the basic driving tests have been passed. At this point, drivers can begin learning the dynamics of a vehicle as it corners.
If this is done at speed, it usually means the introduction to understeer and oversteer comes as the vehicle is heading for a fence or, if the vehicle is completely out of control, someone on the sidewalk or in another vehicle. It’s certain no one will have told them about threshold braking or how to reduce travel in an undesired direction when in a skid or aquaplaning. These are skills only learned in specialist off-road facilities or when the right conditions apply on the road. By then, it’s too late for the majority.
The Canadians are into their fifth year of go-karting sponsored by Toyota and its STAR Safety Systems. Run by Russ Bond, a retired racing driver, this sees the caravan come into towns and cities around Canada. The idea is very simple. Until self-driving vehicles become a reality, we need humans to understand the physics of driving. They need to know what happens if you turn too quickly, or step on the brake too hard. Unfortunately, if you put people into the average 3,000 pound car, tell them to accelerate up to 60 mph, and then brake as if their lives depended on them, you are going to lose a lot of cars and some drivers in the resulting crashes.
People are not used to the ideas of mass and momentum in action. But if you put kids into go-karts:
• they fit into the space comfortably;
• karts are less intimidating than saloon cars;
• indeed, kids love to drive them;
• and while having fun, they learn a lot about the practical side of trying to control a vehicle on twisting roads at speed.
Toyota then explain how their technology works in a full-sized car to make the driving safer. The entire family is welcome at these days-out and everyone learns.